Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egypt

Science Blogs

The Egyptian exhibit was far more modest in scale, being contained in one relatively small gallery. However, to me, it was probably more interesting because of the centerpiece of the exhibit, the Edwin Smith Papyrus. This papyrus was named after the American Egyptologist who purchased it in Luxor in 1862 and brought it back to the U.S. The papyrus dates to approximately 1600 B.C. and appears to be a copy of a document that dates back 200-300 years earlier still. What fascinated me is that this papyrus was a practical guide to the treatment of various ailments and embodied the medical thinking of Egyptian physicians of the time. Even more fascinating is that the knowledge contained in the scroll was presented as several cases. Most of the cases were, as might be expected, how to deal with traumatic wounds. There are also included eight magic spells purported to protect against airborne disease, but there is also one for preventing harm from an accidentally swallowed fly. Showing that some things never change, there were also two prescription for cosmetic purposes, one of which was for an ointment to combat a head cold, as well as for "rejuvenation of the skin and repelling of wrinkles, any age spots, any sign of old age, and any fever that may be in the body."

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